Condo Redevelopments Give New Life to Old Buildings
by Laryssa Stolarskyj
Are you caught in a quandary choosing the ideal condo because you’re enthralled by historic buildings but aspire to owning new? Two Toronto-based developments – The Benvenuto and Madison Avenue Lofts - combine the finest in historic and modern.
Mitchell Abrahams, president of Malen Capital, said the renovation of The Benvenuto at St. Clair and Avenue Road made for an ideal conversion project. The heritage-protected building was originally constructed in the 1950s as luxury apartments. The generous suite sizes, convenient location, views, and amenities made it “the perfect candidate to be renovated; it has the cachet of being the best luxury address in town,” says Abrahams.
The Benvenuto is an important site historically. The original Benvenuto mansion dates back over 150 years, when the builder of the Annex, Simeon James, constructed it to overlook his sprawling new neighbourhood. Its ravine marked the shore of Lake Iroquois (now Lake Ontario), and William Lyon Mackenzie lived in it before it was demolished in the 1950s. Peter Dickinson, architect of the current building, brought an innovative clean-line approach to the city and “left a mark on Toronto in terms of modernist architecture,” says Abrahams, with features such as balconies and banded windows that let in more light than standard windows.
The Benvenuto was built with no structural walls, only columns, so Malen was free to move walls around to create seamless suites. The ability to add big, modern bathrooms and closets gives residents “the best of heritage architecture and space planning to make sure that each suite in the building is redesigned with the best layout,” explains Abrahams.
Tony Barry, vice-president of development, explains that Burnac wasn’t looking to renovate an existing structure. But when the building – which also had the advantage of a superb location – came on the market, Barry was convinced that the company had to acquire it. He says when he first walked into it, he felt its atmosphere was akin to that of an ancient European cathedral. “It was a magnificent structure and we were able to retain that structure.”
Barry explains that although it would have likely cost less to demolish the building and start anew, there were particular features, for instance the high ceilings (which are 12 to 14 feet), that warranted modernizing it into livable, useable space. He notes, “the building is solid, lending itself to a loft product. It was crying out to be renovated; it’s unique.” Barry additionally cites the columns as another feature that adds substance, allowing Burnac to offer a one-of-a-kind condominium.
The process of conversion, however, is significantly more difficult than building new. Malen redeveloped throughout existing occupancy, so details were planned with tremendous coordination to ensure that residents were impacted as little as possible. Abrahams says this meticulousness is worthwhile “only in a building that merits the effort.”
Barry explains that there are more unknowns with a 50-year-old building than with a brand new one, including the major obstacle of not being able to get to know it until actually being in it. Adding parking is another hurdle for Burnac. The original building had no underground parking and adding a new garage beneath the existing structure would be too expensive, if not impossible. Fortunately, the area adjacent to the building can accommodate underground parking, and the top of the garage will host a landscaped courtyard and new wing. Other obstacles that will increase time and cost factors include removing the cladding to add soaring windows that will let in lots of light, creating a new art deco-inspired exterior, and working slowly to preserve the mature trees that border the site.
But the advantages are numerous. Conversions protect buildings with architectural heritage, of which there are few in Toronto. And residents can live in a place with history and enjoy top-quality location and views that simply wouldn’t exist in a new construction in a midtown neighbourhood.
Although conversions offer distinctive features and advantages that new buildings lack, they’re not likely to become the norm. Legislation makes conversions difficult, so only top buildings and locations even make the short list. But Abrahams says it provides an opportunity to reposition luxury buildings and give them “new life in a loft with fantastic locations that are irreplaceable.” Barry concurs, noting “there are fewer and fewer buildings that lend themselves to it in the right locations, but where opportunities present themselves, we’ll carry on taking them.”
Incoming search terms